May 14, 2004

Years of wandering eventually led Father Larry to the life God was calling him to live

Click here to see pictures taken in the last weeks of Father Borders' life

By Sean Gallagher

Last in a series

NAPOLEON—After Larry Borders had traveled throughout Western Europe and Asia and ended up in Iran during the country’s 1979 revolution, he eventually returned to the United States, where he briefly taught English as a second language at Marian College in Indianapolis.

He found the transition back into civil society in the United States difficult to make.

“When I got back home, I was pretty burned out,” Father Borders said. “People said that I was scattered and couldn’t think straight.”

Given his experiences in Iran, with the picture of what horrors men can do in the name of religion, he could have easily rejected any kind of faith in God. He said this was a temptation for him throughout much of his life.

“Sometimes I wanted to be an atheist. That would be an answer to everything,” Father Borders said. “But I couldn’t do it. Logically, I couldn’t accept it.”

And so, instead of turning to disbelief as a foundation for his life, he turned to the faith in Christ proclaimed by the Church.

“One of things that I needed to stabilize myself was the Church. And so I started going to church at St. Joan of Arc [Parish] in Indianapolis. One day, as I walked out of the church, I walked up to [the pastor, Father Donald Schmidlin,] and said, ‘I want to find out about joining the Church, about being confirmed in [it].’ ”

After several months of meeting on a regular basis with Father Schmidlin, he was confirmed, shortly before Christmas 1979.

Looking back in the days leading up to his death on March 27, Father Borders recalled that his experience in Iran had taught him an important lesson about the real basis of peace between peoples.

“I began to see that a political solution to such violence was not possible,” said Father Borders. “Politics weren’t going to do the work in Iran or anywhere. People needed to come together at a deeper level, that of charity. The Word of God had become flesh out of love.”

Although coming into full communion in the Church had opened him to this love, it would still be several more years before it would be a consciously directing force in his life.

Soon after becoming Catholic, Borders left the United States to teach English in Japan. He would remain there for nearly 15 years.

Unlike the spiritual ferment he had experienced in his earlier travels, Father Borders described his time in Japan as being “a spiritual wasteland.”

“I should have stayed around here and explored the spiritual more. I wished that I had worked for the Church,” said Father Borders. “Maybe the only regret that I have in my life is that I didn’t start [in] the priesthood earlier, because it was pretty firm [then], that I wanted to be religious.”

At the time that he was preparing him for reception into the Church, Father Schmidlin also seemed to have noticed the same qualities in Father Borders.

“I told him that he should start thinking at some point in his life about becoming a priest,” Father Schmidlin said.

As it happened, that point in Father Borders’ life would not emerge until 15 years later, when he returned again to the United States and enrolled as a lay student at Saint Meinrad School of Theology. He would be accepted as an archdiocesan seminarian the following year.

Despite the loneliness and spiritual emptiness that Borders experienced in Japan, his time there would later have a positive impact upon him and would help to shape the way in which he would approach his priestly ministry and his own suffering and death.

In 1989, the health of his mother started to decline. Although he made arrangements for a leave of absence in order to return home, his mother passed away while he was on his flight back to the United States.

This missed opportunity to be present to his dying mother would later help convince Father Borders of the importance of being present to the parishioners whom he has served.

“It has affected my ministry. I try to
be with the dying,” said Father Borders.
“I want to be with them. I want to go to the hospitals to visit them. I need to be present.”

Father Borders faced many difficulties in coping with his mother’s death. These struggles, combined with the perceived futility of his life in Japan, eventually helped him to recognize a disconnection between what he felt God’s will was for him and what he was choosing to do with his life.

“I began to sense that I had a role to play and I wasn’t playing it. And it bothered me,” Father Borders said. “There was a conflict there. I wanted to reach out more to people, but I wasn’t doing it.”

All of this finally began to change in 1993 when he mysteriously returned to the advice that Father Schmidlin had given him so long ago.

“In 1993, I began to say, ‘What about this priesthood thing?’ ” said Father Borders. “It was still in my mind very strongly. It was like a revelation.”

The beginning of this discernment eventually led him to leave Japan in the spring of 1995. Upon his return, he visited Father Schmidlin and told him of his thoughts about the priesthood.

Father Schmidlin recalled the meeting in his homily at Father Borders’ funeral.

“Larry told me he was finally ready to think about priesthood,” said Father Schmidlin. “Immediately, I called Father Paul Etienne, then the vocation director for the archdiocese, and arranged an afternoon appointment for Larry.”

It was during his subsequent priestly formation at Saint Meinrad School of Theology and his life and ministry as a priest since his ordination in 2000 that Father Borders did indeed reach out to people. He began to reach out to them with the love whose importance he had discovered so long ago after his return from Iran.

Susan Schutte, the secretary for St. Maurice Parish in Napoleon, recalled how firmly Father Borders wanted to be present to members of the parish who were sick or dying.

“If anybody was sick, even that same day he would go to their side … wherever they were at,” said Schutte. “They felt at ease when he came. They wanted him to be there.”

Even as his own health worsened, he wanted to be present to his parish community. Schutte recalled how Father Borders refused to schedule a surgery to treat his cancer until a permanent priest replacement could be found for the parish.

His special concern for the dying remained even as his own death approached.

“About a month before he died, a lady of the parish died,” Schutte said. “And he insisted that he take the funeral, even though he could barely stand.”

And so it would seem that Father Borders had founded his priestly ministry upon the deep charity that he had recognized 25 years earlier, that desire to reach out to other people.

Father Borders described his priestly formation and his life as a priest as “the culmination of my life.”

“I viewed my formation as a training in that deep love,” he said. “Every step of the way at Saint Meinrad, it felt that I was approaching something much deeper than myself.”

Looking back at his ordination, Father Borders saw meaning in a connection between his ordination and his own suffering and death.

“It was the end of my earthly journey, almost,” he said. “I was thinking in those terms.”

He came to understand both his ordination and his suffering and death in light of what St. Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy about his own impending death: “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tm 4:6). †


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